Ashley Petrons with Olympic Torch

Ashley carrying the Olympic Torch.

Olympic Torchbearer shares her 'once in a lifetime experience'

Ashley Petrons (International Relations 2007) was nominated as an Olympic Torchbearer for her extensive volunteer work. Here she gives an account of the day and her moment to shine...

I was nominated to carry the Olympic torch by the Cancer Research UK Ambassador team. I have volunteered for them for a few years, but most recently as an Ambassador, which currently involves promoting 'the answer is plain' campaign.

The torch relay team e-mailed at various points to let me know I was through to the next stage. The first email I received was back in August 2011, and I got final confirmation that I was definitely part of the torch relay in March 2012. Between then and the 20 May, there were various bits of communication, and the all important (and fetching) uniform arrived in the post around two weeks before the event. It started to feel real then, and I got both very nervous and incredibly excited. I did a little bit of training to make sure I could run with the torch, but the general gist was to turn up at your point and enjoy the experience!

On the day, I arrived at Dartmouth Tourist Information Centre about an hour early and waited for other torch bearers to arrive. Everyone was really friendly and I joined a couple of the organisers who were gathered around a computer watching the relay live on the web. As the others started to arrive with their friends and family, the atmosphere really picked up and it was clear, we were all sharing similar emotions. We went outside to watch the convoy as it passed through on the leg before ours, and then had a little photo op outside the information centre, which I think got us all even more excited!

Soon we were on the bus up to our start point, which was Dartmouth Naval College. This in itself was a real honour, as it's such a high security premises. As we approached, we saw dozen of police vans lined up, making it feel all the more surreal! At this point we got our briefing, and then waited on the bus until it was time to start the relay. This was one of my favourite bits, as we got to share stories as to why we had been nominated. At one stage, a competitor from the winter Olympics from the 1980's hopped on the bus and asked if we wouldn't mind him taking a photo with one of the torches. He popped on his old school 'Team GB' jacket and we got a great photo op with him too (the surreal day continued!)

Before long, it was time for the relay to start. I was second in that set, so my drop off was early, just at the entrance to the college, right at the bottom of a nice long hill! I had a few friends and family there to cheer me on, and I was dropped off just by them, and by some others crowds there waiting to see the flame. It was pretty crazy how complete strangers were asking to have their photo taken with me - I sort of assumed all they really wanted was the torch, so handed that over and stepped aside! Soon, I could see the torch bearer before me - Katie - pelting down the naval college drive, and I knew I was up! The next bit happened in a bit of a blur - there were police escorts turning on the gas canister in the torch, and then another bringing the two torches together so mine was lit. Someone behind me said 'when you're ready' and off I went up the hill.

I attempted a jog for the 300 metres, but when someone said there was 50 metres left, I slowed to a walk - wanting to savour the moment! I got to the fire station, and handed over my torch to a French chap, Bruno. Feeling a little light headed from my uphill jog, I got out the way as quickly as I could and waited to be picked up by another bus, near the back of the convoy.

We then followed the convoy around, picking up all the torch bearers until the end of that leg of the relay. It was great fun cheering everyone on as they got back on the bus, and sharing our 'moments'. Soon we were back at the tourist information centre, and our torches were being decommisioned so we could take them home.

I am keeping my uniform, and the torch that I ran with. It was interesting to hear all the coverage of the torches being sold on e-bay, but I don't feel that is a choice I will make. Having not even wanted to buy one before the day, the whole experience on the day changed my mind very quickly. I now feel that it is a really special piece of memorabilia, and something that I will want to have as a memento of being a part of this once in a lifetime experience.

Date: 24 May 2012

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